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when midnights break their sleep

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Geralt's just finished making a margarita for one of his regulars when some round-faced kid with the biggest doe eyes he's ever seen hops up on a stool and flags him down.

Seriously? This kid screams Freshman. Geralt cranes his neck to see who's carding at the door—of course it's Triss.

Bracing himself with a deep sigh, Geralt rests his forearms on the bar and puts on his best intimidation face. Which, according to Yen, is just his default expression.

"How'd you get in here?" Geralt asks.

The undergrad looks at him with more surprise than fear. "Wow! Your voice is so deep. I mean, you look like you'd have a deep voice, but it's really— ooh, say, 'I'm Batman.'"

Geralt massages his temples. "Let me see your ID."

"Oh, don't worry!" The undergrad holds up his left hand, which has their lime green wristband on it. "They already carded me at the door."

Geralt just stares at him.

He pouts and eventually pulls out his wallet, then hands over his driver's license. Geralt frowns at it, turning it over in his hand. It's from out of state, obviously. Says his name's Jaskier.

"Where are you from?" Geralt asks suspiciously.

"Oregon," Jaskier answers brightly. "Have you been there?"

"What year were you born?"

"1997."

"What's your sign?"

"Taurus, you flirt."

Geralt narrows his eyes. "You answered that too quickly."

Jaskier crosses his arms and pouts even harder. "I know I have a baby-face, okay? I got carded trying to see 21 Bridges last month."

"Hm." Geralt hands the ID back over. "I don't believe you."

"Fine," Jaskier admits. "It was Portrait of a Lady on Fire."

Geralt turns his head towards another customer, conveniently hiding the twitch of his lips.

When he's done pouring that legal customer's beer, he finds Jaskier sitting patiently with his fingers steepled on the bar, right where he left him.

"Shouldn't you be trying this shit at Club Cintra?" Geralt complains. "This scene would be a little old for you even if you were twenty-three."

"Twenty-two," Jaskier corrects without missing a beat—dammit. "And I heard you have fantastic karaoke."

Geralt closes his eyes.

"I think you're just jealous that I'll look amazing in my forties," Jaskier says. Geralt cracks one eye open to watch him gesture vaguely at Geralt's face. "And you'll—actually, how old are you? It's sort of hard to tell, with the hair."

"Ooh, this'll be good," Renfri crows, because apparently she values eavesdropping over tending her half of the bar. She rests her elbow up on Geralt's shoulder. "How old do you think he is, Baby-Face?"

Jaskier grins at her. "Hello there! You look very scary and very hot."

"I'd eat you for breakfast," Renfri idly informs him.

"Yeah," Jaskier agrees dreamily. He blinks, apparently refocusing, and squints at Geralt. "Hmm. Thirty… five?"

"Renfri," says Geralt. "Eat him now."

Renfri is too busy cackling.

Jaskier huffs indignantly. His face is ridiculously expressive, like he's performing on stage and needs to be read from a distance.

"What, am I over or under?" he asks insistently, looking between them.

Renfri pats Geralt on the bicep, says, "Told you it's the hair," and wanders back to the other end of the bar.

"I'm over," Jaskier decides. "Thirty-two? Thirty? Help me out here or I'll go higher again. You don't look a day over forty."

Geralt purses his lips in a threatening smile and says, "I'm twenty-five."

Jaskier laughs.

Geralt doesn't.

"Oh! Oh, goodness, you're serious." Jaskier waves a hand in Geralt's face again. "Sorry, it's hard to tell because you seem like the kind of person who has one tone of voice? Do you make jokes? Wait, do you go to school here? Are you paying your way through university by serving young karaoke proteges drinks?"

"No," Geralt says drily, "because I'm not serving you."

"In all seriousness, silver is really a flattering color on you—whatever age it makes you look," Jaskier says, batting his eyelashes. "Where do you get it done?"

"I was born with it," Geralt deadpans.

Jaskier gapes at him like he's almost considering believing it. "You're lying!"

"And you're not twenty-two."

"Oh, lighten up, Geralt," Renfri teases, nudging him out of the way with her hip. "What'll you have, Baby-Face?"

"My name's Jaskier."

Renfri tilts her head consideringly. "I'm gonna keep calling you Baby-Face."

"Yes, ma'am," says Jaskier. Geralt rolls his eyes. "I'll have a well shot of whiskey and a PBR, please."

Renfri pours his drinks while Geralt considers moving to Canada.

Triss, apparently off door duty so she can run the event, cuts the music to announce, "Alright, everyone, karaoke sign-ups are now open! Singing starts in fifteen minutes."

Jaskier drinks half his shot, makes the world's most dramatic face of displeasure, then drinks the other half.

"Will you guys cheer for me when I sing?" he asks the two of them, smiling sweetly despite the way his eyes are watering. "I've never sung in front of people before and I'm actually really nervous."

Geralt smiles, baring his teeth. "Break a leg."

"That's terrifying, thank you!" Jaskier tells him cheerfully.

He grabs his beer and flits off to find a song book. For a scrawny undergrad, he's actually got a pretty decent ass.

Not that Geralt will ever admit that.

 

~*~

 

Half an hour later, Geralt is staring in shock as the scrawny undergrad belts out "Some Nights" by Fun. to wild applause.

Renfri asks, "Did we just get hustled at karaoke?"

"Hmm."

"Damn," says Renfri. "You're totally gonna fuck him, aren't you?"

Geralt scowls and snatches the rag out of her hands, busying himself with wiping down the bar. 

He's not going to dignify her teasing with an answer. If he gets his wish, Jaskier won't come back at all.

 

~*~

 

"Geraaaalt," Jaskier slurs three weeks later, draping himself all over the bartop Geralt just wiped down. "I have a secret to tell you."

Geralt doesn't look up. "You're not twenty-two?"

"Very funny." Jaskier tugs on Geralt's sleeve. "Come here, it's a secret!"

Geralt sighs and complies, leaning forward.

"I hate beer. And whiskey." Jaskier bats his eyelashes. "Can I please have a shot of Malibu?"

"You're not selling the maturity thing."

Jaskier props his cheek up on one hand. "I'll dedicate my next song to you."

"No." Geralt tugs his arm away. "Ask Renfri."

Jaskier whines, "But then she won't think I'm cool anymore!"

"I guarantee you, from the bottom of my heart," says Geralt, "that Ren does not think you're cool."

Jaskier opens his mouth in exaggerated offense, but whatever complaint he's about to make is cut off by the current song ending and Triss' announcement from the DJ booth.

"Okay, up next is Jaskier singing 'Faith.' Jaskier!"

Jaskier darts up to the stage with a wink, seizing the microphone from the stand.

"Hello, everyone!" he says, giving a wave to the crowd. "This one is for Rivia's broodiest bartender, Geralt! Everyone give it up for Geralt!"

There's a modest chorus of cheers. Geralt scowls when someone—he suspects Triss—wolf-whistles.

"Aww, just look at that grouchy mug." Jaskier blows him a fucking kiss. "Make sure you tip Geralt well tonight, folks, he needs his roots done. 'Well, I guess it would be nice—if I could touch your body!'"

Geralt sighs. He turns his back to the crowd, busying himself with reorganizing the liquor bottles on the top shelf because they look out of place, and absolutely not because he can feel his face heating up.

Jaskier makes a beeline for Geralt's side of the bar after his song is over, despite Geralt's continued refusal to make him anything besides a Shirley Temple.

"Soo," Jaskier asks, propping an elbow up on the bar. He runs his other hand through his hair, which is damp with sweat from bopping around the stage. "What did you think? Honest opinion, three words or less."

Geralt side-eyes him as he slides a beer over to another customer. "Go bother Renfri."

Jaskier wags a finger at him. "Now, Geralt, is that any way to treat the man who just dedicated a beautiful song to you?"

"I don't like attention," Geralt tells him gruffly. "And beautiful is a stretch."

"A stre—are you this mean to all your friends?" Jaskier asks, leaning away with a tiny frown.

"We're not friends," Geralt says automatically, but, ugh—on closer inspection, Jaskier looks less like he's hamming it up for attention and more like his actual feelings are hurt, and Geralt's not a monster.

He sighs, deeply, and reaches for the Malibu.

Jaskier's entire face lights up when Geralt slides the shot over, and—fuck. Geralt's going to regret this even more than he thought, isn't he?

"This doesn't mean you can sing about me again," Geralt warns, heading off the onslaught. "Cut that shit out."

Jaskier throws back his shot before answering, his throat bobbing in a thick, inviting arc, and purses his lips to breathe out a steady stream of air. His hair flops back in his face, despite his best efforts.

"Scout's honor," he says, smiling sweetly.

 

~*~

 

The opening chords to "Call Me Maybe" play as Jaskier hops up on stage.

"This next one is dedicated to Geralt's artfully ripped jeans, which are doing the Lord's work."

 

~*~

 

"Everyone, say hi to Geralt!" Jaskier does a finger wave in Geralt's direction. "I know he looks very scary, but the other day he told me his favorite movie is Cloud Atlas, so obviously he's incredibly fun at parties and his bark is worse than his bite."

 

~*~

 

The following week, Jaskier dedicates "Dangerous Woman" to him with worryingly little irony.

"Sincerely, G," Renfri tells him, "I can't begin to tell you how much you deserve this."

 

~*~

 

Geralt doesn't need anyone—fourteen years of bouncing around the foster care system worked that out of him with remarkable efficiency, as did the subsequent years of putting himself through undergrad—and his short list of friends is comprised of incredibly self-sufficient people.

Yen texts him when she wants a warm body to put somewhere—her bed, the kind of restaurant where the waiters shoot you pitying looks if you try to eat alone, the middle of a conversation. They probably love each other. It would mortify her to call and he'd panic if he tried to pick up the phone.

And, sure, he broke the nose of the last bastard stupid enough to grab Renfri's ass, but that's only because he had to head off her going straight for the balls.

There's a special way that Geralt's name sits in Jaskier's mouth when he needs something from him. 'Geralt, I can't find my jacket,' and, 'My drink tastes better when you make it, Geralt,' and, 'Fuck, Geralt, I'm pretty sure I slept with that woman's husband last week you've gotta hide me!'

It's terrifying. Jaskier grins up at Geralt from on his knees, ducked behind the bar, and foam spills over a pint glass onto Geralt's shaking hand when he forgets to shut off the tap.

It gets worse when Jaskier starts showing up on the weekends. The Wednesday karaoke crowd is pretty tame all things considered, but Rivia gets a little rowdy otherwise. 

Jaskier is sitting at the end of the bar, sipping the Cosmo that Geralt made for him as a joke, when a woman whose entire demeanor screams vice provost of something walks through the door and takes a seat at the far end.

Geralt is, regrettably, familiar with the way Jaskier's posture perks.

"No," Geralt scolds, following Jaskier's gaze. The woman shares an efficient conversation with Renfri and then pulls out her phone.

"You're not the boss of me, Geralt," Jaskier says in that tone people only use ever towards someone who definitely should be the boss of them for their own good. "And I'm in love with her."

"She's got twenty years on you, easily." Geralt snaps his fingers in front of Jaskier's face. "And is very clearly wearing a ring."

Jaskier smiles cheekily, informs him, "You underestimate how badly I wanna get pegged," and finishes off his drink.

He hops off his stool and saunters across the room, a light hand brushing strangers on the shoulders as he squeezes past them. 

Jesus Christ.

Renfri chooses that moment to appear at Geralt's side, plucking a bottle of whiskey from the shelf behind him. She takes one look at his face and asks, "Who pissed in your Cheerios, sunshine?"

Geralt grunts and moves away to take someone's order. Too busy for gossiping tonight, even if he wanted to.

Renfri shrugs and goes back to her side. He watches out of the corner of his eye as she pours two shots—one for the woman and the other for Jaskier.

"Hey," says Triss, slipping past him to grab herself a water. "We're near capacity, FYI."

"Great," he says.

She frowns at him with concern. "Are you okay?"

Renfri returns to replace the bottle she took.

Geralt slides two pint glasses across the bar to a couple who barely acknowledge him, then tells Renfri, "Don't encourage Jaskier."

"I wasn't planning on it, but this'll be good." Renfri grins wickedly and tugs sharply on Geralt's hair. "Why can't Baby-Face get laid?"

Triss leans against the bar, effectively trapping him between them. "Ooh, yeah, Geralt, tell us."

They're both leering at him like there's something he's missing.

"We have customers," Geralt points out stiffly. He leans around Triss to ask someone, "Hey, man, what'll it—"

Renfri pushes him back with a hand on his chest and tells the customer, "Be with you in a moment," before turning back to Geralt. "Simple question, sunshine."

Fuck. Geralt hates his friends.

"... He's an idiot," Geralt answers eventually. "He's gonna get decked. Again. And then it'll be my problem."

Case in point, Geralt looks over to find Jaskier leaning into the woman's space. She brushes a strand of short hair behind her ear with a bemused expression.

"That's the best you can come up with?" Triss tuts.

Geralt glares at her. "I quit Cintra because I was tired of bouncing. Don't wanna start here."

"Do you wanna know what I think?" Renfri walks her fingers up Geralt's forearm in a way that implies the question is, unfortunately, rhetorical. "I think you're jealous that you're in the wrong age bracket for our slutty little friend over there."

Geralt feels his face heating up. He growls, "Don't."

"There's that pissy Cheerios face again," Renfri crows, booping him on the nose. "Don't worry, G, I'm sure if you—"

All three of their heads snap over to the sound of raised voices at the other end of the bar, where Jaskier is currently standing with his hands up and his back pressed to the countertop, smiling disarmingly at the man with graying temples who's bracketing him in.

Geralt's eyes narrow. He gently brushes past Triss to make his way around the bar; he's less gentle with the man, and with Jaskier when he fists a hand in the front of his stupid, flamingo-print collared shirt and drags him away.

"Geralt!" Jaskier stumbles and flops bodily against Geralt's side, wrapping an arm around his waist. "I had that handled! World's hottest threesome in three minutes, tops."

Geralt shakes that image from his brain and snaps, "Do you have a death wish?"

"I can have a little death," Jaskier says, tilting his head up to smirk at Geralt. "As a treat."

Geralt deposits him on his original stool, squinting suspiciously. "Is that a reference?"

"Oh my god, you have the spirit of a forty year old man," Jaskier complains, suddenly fully capable of supporting his own weight when Geralt retreats behind the bar. "I was tapping into your—your aura."

"Hm." Geralt glances back over at the other end of the bar; the man is glaring daggers into Jaskier's back, but he quickly looks away when Geralt raises an eyebrow in challenge. "I'm gonna throw you out next time you try that shit."

"Dearest Geralt," Jaskier says, patting him on the arm with mock solemnity. "We both know that if you actually wanted to get rid of me, you'd have done it by now."

Well, yeah. But they're not supposed to talk about it.

Geralt hums noncommittally and pours him a water, then shoves the glass into the hand formerly resting on his arm. "You operate on so little positive reinforcement."

Jaskier's eyes are owlish, far more serious than Geralt was expecting. He says, "You get used to it."

There's an uncomfortable itch under Geralt's skin. He shoves his shirtsleeves up over his elbows, then tugs them back down when it doesn't help.

"Drink your fucking water," he says. "Don't sing about this."

 

~*~

 

"Up next is Jaskier, singing 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love.'"

"Hi, everyone! This one's for my knight in shining armor, who wishes to remain nameless. I'm going to disrespect that wish, because I think everyone should acknowledge how nice Geralt's arms look in that shirt, and that's also something that anyone who doesn't like my singing should keep in mind."

 

~*~

 

"Have you been getting more tips lately?" Geralt asks Renfri and Triss that evening.

Triss says, "Not really."

"Same as always," Renfri agrees. "Wednesdays blow. Wait, have you?"

"Hm," says Geralt.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier stumbles into Rivia on a Saturday night about an hour before close, surrounded by a small horde of giggling undergrad girls. They're stupidly out of place here, swarming around Geralt's end of the bar with no leather and glitter all over their faces and Club Cintra's stamp on the backs of their hands, but Jaskier avoids the rickety stool with practiced familiarity despite being the drunkest Geralt's ever seen him.

"Geraaaalt," he calls, drumming his hands on the table excitedly. "Hiiiii!"

Geralt sighs, dragging a hand over his face. "God help me, why are you here?"

"Cintra kicked us out," Jaskier says in a tone that Geralt suspects he thinks will garner sympathy.

"So you came here," says Geralt drily. "Despite the fact that I tell you—every time—that I don't believe you're twenty-two and I'm not going to serve you alcohol."

Jaskier sits up a little straighter. "Yeah, yeah, you always say that, and then you make me a drink anyway. It's our thing. Do your bit."

Geralt rests his forearms on the bar and tells Jaskier, very seriously, "I'm not making you a drink."

Jaskier bites his bottom lip and, to the shocked giggles of his apparent friends, traces his fingers up the twitching line of Geralt's inner arm. "Can I have a shot of whiskey, please, sir?"

Fuck. Fuck, that's not—

Geralt pulls away abruptly, turning his back to them. His fingers skim over the bottom shelf, trying to… something. 

They never take it that far, normally. Jaskier is flirtatious, sure, and incredibly fucking annoying, but the way he smoldered up at Geralt was—

Geralt rolls his sleeves back down. Jaskier must be really drunk. Maybe Geralt actually shouldn't serve him.

There's a bout of hushed whispers and another round of giggles from behind his back, including Jaskier's distinctive laugh.

Maybe he's just showing off, trying to embarrass Geralt in front of these girls. 

Fuck that.

Geralt makes him a Cosmopolitan. He slides it over across the bar and deadpans, "Your usual."

Jaskier's look of betrayal when the girls all burst out into laughter is worth it. Even if Geralt's heartbeat hasn't entirely slowed.

Geralt props an elbow up on the counter. "What can I get the rest of you?"

The girl closest to Geralt looks around, sharing some kind of meaningful look with the others, before ruffling Jaskier's hair and saying, "Um, we're actually heading out? Yeah."

"What?" Jaskier asks, looking between them all. "Right now?"

"Yeah," says another one. "See you on Monday?"

Jaskier starts to say something, but his phone lights up where it's poking out of his pocket. He frowns down at it and reads something on the screen—then smiles brightly.

"You're all terrible," he tells them collectively.

The first girl wraps her arms around his neck and gives him a quick hug. "Bye, boo. Make good choices."

"Unlikely," he muffles into her shoulder.

The girls say their goodbyes and work their way back to the exit, leaving Jaskier tapping his fingers on his glass and staring at Geralt expectantly.

"Looks like it's just us!" he says cheerfully.

"And seventy of our closest friends," says Geralt, looking pointedly around the bar.

Jaskier leans up out of his stool, draping himself half-over the bartop. His pupils are dilated from the booze and—and maybe Geralt, and his cheeks are flushed where they're propped up by each hand.

"That means I'm your friend," he says. His teeth are exactly straight, like they were forced that way. "You like me."

The worst part is that Geralt does.

He's saved from having to do anything about that when three separate people try to flag him down to close out their tabs at once. 

Jaskier grabs at his sleeve as soon as another lull hits, tugging him back over. "Geralt. Geralt! Do you have a Snapchat?"

"Yeah, I'll give you my username. Ready?" Geralt waits for Jaskier to pull out his phone. "G-O-A-W-A-Y."

"G-O-A-W-A— hey!" Jaskier pouts, setting his phone face-down on the counter. "You don't wanna be Snapchat friends with me?"

"Don't take it personally, Baby-Face," says Renfri. She tries to slide him a shot of whiskey, which Geralt intercepts and hides behind the bar. "G doesn't do social media."

Jaskier's jaw drops. "What, at all? How are you a real person?"

Geralt shrugs, shifting away to close out another tab.

"But Snapchat is so fun, Geralt!" Jaskier insists as soon as Geralt's done. "If you had one I could send you pictures of all the funny stuff I overhear on campus and my outfits every day and parts of songs I'm writing! Ooh, and my roommate's dog and—"

"Jesus Christ, okay." Geralt presses a hand to his temples. "I'll make one. Show me how to use it."

"Wait, really?" Jaskier asks excitedly. 

"Yeah," Renfri echoes, raising a judgemental eyebrow. "Really?"

"Oh, this'll be so fun!" Jaskier claps his hands together. "Download it right now!"

Geralt sighs, looking around. He pulls out his phone and taps over to the app store.

Renfri asks, "This is a prank, right? You're playing a fucking prank."

It should be. But Geralt's… curious, maybe. And it'll get Jaskier to shut up about it.

He leaves it downloading and goes back to work while Jaskier texts furiously and Renfri shoots him judgemental looks from across the room.

Geralt's not sure what her problem is. It's not like she doesn't have Snapchat herself.

Once the app finishes downloading, Geralt takes Jaskier's empty glass from him and says, "Okay, how does it work?"

"This is the best day of my life! The best one." Jaskier leans over and cranes his neck so he can see Geralt's screen. "Okay, first of all you've gotta make a username and password, obviously. How about 'jaskierfanforever,' hm?"

Geralt snorts and types in the same username he puts for everything. "Don't look at my password."

"You type like an old man," Jaskier tells him cheerfully, but he looks away until Geralt is finished.

"Alright, so the first thing is that—oops, one sec." Jaskier looks down at his own phone, then frowns when he taps over to his text messages and reads something Geralt doesn't catch. "Shit. Erm, I've gotta go, actually? To be continued?"

Geralt blinks. "What?"

"My friend needs me. Here, just let me—" Jaskier snatches Geralt's phone from him, taps on it a few times, then aims the camera at his own phone. "There, I added myself for you. I'm really sorry, bye!"

"What?" Geralt repeats. He raises his eyebrows as Jaskier pockets his phone and darts away. "Hey, pay your fucking tab!"

"Bye, honey!" Jaskier shouts from across the room, waving enthusiastically. "Love you!"

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face.

"Karma's a beautiful bitch," Renfri tells him. "Here, I'll help you, honey. Do you wanna sync your contacts?"

Geralt squints at his phone. "Will it tell everyone I have this stupid app?"

"Uh, yeah," Renfri says. "That's kinda the point."

"Hm." Geralt taps the cancel button. 

Renfri rolls her eyes and goes back to work.

 

~*~

 

Geralt adds Renfri, Yen, Triss, and literally no one else. The first Snapchat that anyone ever sends him is a picture of his own irritated face.

shrike_princess: can u believe this dumbass finally got a Snapchat bc a cute boy asked him nicely

"It wasn't even that nicely," Geralt says flatly, then pauses. "Wait, who did you send that to?"

Renfri's grin is unencouraging.

 

~*~

 

The second Snapchat is from Jaskier, around 20 minutes later while Geralt and Renfri are closing.

dandilionbard: [One of the girls from the bar earlier, hunched over a toilet and flipping off the camera] Guess who regrets her choices!!

whitewolf95: [A wide shot of the empty bar, which is littered with half-drunk glasses and forgotten belongings] Me.

dandilionbard: (chat) [three kissing face emojis]

 

~*~

 

yenven333: [A discreet selfie taken from under a desk. She's got her cheek propped up on one hand and a haunted look on her face] What if I killed a student. Just one of them. To set an example.

whitewolf95: [A potted plant, off-center and blurry] I'll send you money for smokes in prison

yenven333: (chat) That's the most romantic thing you've ever said to me xoxo

 

~*~

 

tmarigold: [A selfie of her, Renfri, and Yennefer curled up under a blanket on the couch] Movie night!! <3

 

~*~

 

Geralt gets home from a closing shift at the bar, carefully unlaces his boots and sets them by the door, and faceplants onto his bed. He's bone-tired and his eyes sting from the cleaning solution they use to wipe down the tables, and nothing happens when he crawls under the covers and closes his eyes.

Fuck.

Geralt just wants to fucking sleep. There's that itch under his skin that keeps him from being able to settle, making him too aware of his body. He thinks about texting Yen, but she's been stressing out over a midterm all week and is hopefully long-asleep herself. Jacking off feels like too much work.

He's about to resort to that mindfulness app Triss sent him last week when his phone lights up on its own. 

It's a Snapchat from Jaskier. Geralt squints at the suddenly bright screen, then taps at the notification, which is a mistake.

The lighting is muted, turning the whole photo a little grainy in an old-fashioned way. Jaskier is on his back in a bed, staring with wide, doleful eyes directly into the camera. His lips are puffy and bruised, exaggerated by the pout. He's shirtless and there's a shadow on the edge of his throat that looks like it could be a hickey.

dandilionbard: Can't sleep :(

Fuck. What the fuck? Did he mean to send this to Geralt? He can't be implying—

Geralt's hands shake a little when he screenshots the picture; he needs someone else to see it, needs them to him he's being fucking crazy and it's a totally normal photo.

Before he can decide whether Renfri or Triss is less likely to publicly humiliate him for this, he gets a chat message from Jaskier.

dandilionbard: FLIRT [blushing emoji]

Wait, what?

Geralt scrolls up, trying to figure out what he sent that this could be in response to—fucking Snapchat—when he realizes that it says YOU TOOK A SCREENSHOT! under the latest picture.

Does that…?

Fuck.

Geralt clicks over to his group chat with the girls, helpfully named, When will G reach peak dumbass?

whitewolf95: Does snapchat tell someone when you take a screenshot

shrike_princess: LOLOLOL

tmarigold: OMG what did you do??

That answers that.

Geralt tabs back over to his chat with Jaskier with a lump in his throat.

whitewolf95: ...sorry.

whitewolf95: I'll delete it.

Jaskier sends another picture and then starts typing in chat.

dandilionbard: [Another selfie of Jaskier in bed, this time a close-up on his face. He's biting his lip around a coy smile.] You don't have to

Geralt stares, swallowing thickly. Unlike Renfri and Yen, Jaskier leaves all his snapchats set to infinity. 

He shouldn't take advantage. It's…

He taps away and goes back to their conversation.

dandilionbard: You can't sleep either?

Geralt purses his lips.

whitewolf95: No

The screen lights up with a notification that Jaskier is trying to video call him, which isn't something he'd realized Snapchat could do.

Geralt tilts his eyes up to the ceiling, breathes, and accepts the call.

Jaskier is still, predictably, in what Geralt assumes is his own bed—but he's curled up on his side now, and the sight of him makes the air catch in Geralt's throat.

Jaskier's chin is propped up on what looks like a huge stuffed teddy bear, tucked against his chest. The video quality is too poor to make out that many details, but it's obvious the thing is well-worn, and it's just…

Geralt is mystified by it to the point of anger.

Jaskier lies about his age, about what song he's going to sing and whether or not he's going to sing it to raise money to buy Geralt more shampoo. He flutters his eyelashes and tries to skip out on his tab and seems to specifically seek out cheating spouses because it's fucking fun for him to sneak around.

What fucking right does he have to lay himself bare like this? Why does Geralt have to carry it?

"Ger?" Jaskier asks, frowning sleepily through the screen. "Why's your camera off? Can you hear me?"

Geralt clears his throat. "It's not. Room's dark."

Jaskier's frown deepens. "Why? Turn on a light or something, I wanna see you."

"I'm trying to sleep," Geralt says. "Shouldn't you turn yours off?"

"You're bad at this," Jaskier tells him instead. He shifts slightly, jostling the camera. "Did you work tonight?"

"Yeah."

"How was it?"

"Slow."

Jaskier asks, "Is that good or bad?"

Geralt hums. "Bad for tips. A little boring, but Triss was there."

Jaskier blinks slowly, then shifts again. "Gotcha."

"What were you doing?" asks Geralt.

"Someone I met on Tinder." Jaskier yawns, stretching delicately. "It was fine, but y'know how sometimes you come and it's like, 'that was a lot of trouble for that quality of orgasm?' So I'm tired but not, mm, enough."

Geralt shrugs even though Jaskier can't see him. "Sure."

"You know, you never actually told me if you're actually in school," Jaskier points out. "Are you?"

Geralt's eyes droop shut a little; he blinks them back open. "No. I did undergrad here."

"What'd you major in?"

"Animal science," says Geralt. 

Jaskier snorts. "Really?"

"Really." Geralt's lips twitch. "I ride horses."

"What? Really?" Jaskier sits up against the pillows, tugging his ridiculous teddy bear with him. "Now? In real life?"

"Yeah." 

"Well why haven't you sent me pictures?" Jaskier demands in a characteristic huff. So much for sleeping. "That's just cruel, Geralt."

Geralt smiles despite himself. "Hm. Thought it'd be boring."

"Boring?" Jaskier slumps back down again. "You're horrible. I demand horse pictures. Do you wear those tights? How did you even get into this?"

Geralt rolls onto his back and pulls his comforter up to his chest. "One of those behavior camps for problem children. I'm still in touch with the guy who ran it. I was his best student."

"I refuse to believe you were a problem child," Jaskier tells him, laughter coloring his voice. "I was a problem child."

"You're still one," Geralt deadpans.

"How very dare you!" Jaskier flops onto his other side and hides half his face behind the bear. His eyes seem almost gray in the poor lighting, twinkling behind the static. "If you were the best student at problem child school, were you the worst behaved kid or the best behaved?"

"Yes," says Geralt.

Jaskier giggles. His expression—what Geralt can see of it—turns marginally more serious. "Did you have a bad childhood?"

It occurs to Geralt suddenly, like the moment a bone finally crunches under weight, that there's literally no part of him that wants to be having this fucking conversation.

Jaskier tilts his chin up so that it's propped on top of the bear again and stares earnestly.

"Doesn't everyone?" Geralt asks.

"I hope not," says Jaskier, which means that he did. "But I also—at least then it'd be fair, right? It'd make sense."

"Hm." Geralt turns back on his side.

Jaskier clears his throat and steers the subject away. "So, why bartending?"

"Couldn't find a job that made better money." Geralt gets distracted by the way Jaskier brushes his hair away from his face. "I… can see my horse during the day—less people."

"Right, because you're a grumpy curmudgeon who hates everyone."

"Mm."

Jaskier closes his eyes. His eyelashes cast long shadows over his cheeks. "What's your horse's name?"

"Roach," says Geralt.

Another laugh. "That's a ridiculous name."

"Thanks. I named her myself."

"It's a wonderful name. The best name, really. You're a visionary."

Geralt lets his eyes slip shut too. "Mm."

"You know," Jaskier murmurs, "if you really wanted to make money, you could be one of those phone sex operators."

Geralt huffs out a laugh of surprise. "What?"

"You've got the voice for it!" Jaskier insists. "'Specially when you're all sleepy. It gets all gravelly in that sexy dilf way."

"Do you think about words before they leave your mouth?"

"Almost never, thank you for asking."

Geralt hums. "You're welcome."

"I'm serious, though." It sounds like he yawns again, but Geralt keeps his eyes closed. "You'd be doing the world a service."

"One problem," Geralt mutters. "I can't do dirty talk."

Jaskier says, "I'm sure that's not true."

"It's stupid," Geralt argues. "Fake and… stupid."

"You clearly haven't been exposed to good dirty talk, then." Jaskier sounds offended on behalf of the entire premise. "It's better in the moment."

"Hm." Geralt cracks one eye open; Jaskier is staring at his screen again, even though Geralt knows there's nothing to see. "And you keep a straight face?"

Jaskier says, "You have to get used to it," and then flaps a hand in front of the camera excitedly. "Ooh, you can practice with me."

"I'm not doing that," says Geralt.

"Say, 'You've been a naughty boy.'"

"Fine. You've been a—" Geralt snorts. "No."

Jaskier wheedles, "You didn't even try! Try again."

Geralt sighs deeply, then closes his eyes again. "You've been a naughty boy."

"I sure have." Geralt can picture Jaskier's horrible grin. "Tell me what you'll do about it."

"Uh… punish you?"

"With confidence, Geralt."

"I'll punish you."

Jaskier says, "Better. Ooh, say, 'You can't touch yourself unless I say so.'"

Geralt curls his hand in the sheets. "Don't touch yourself until I say to."

"Or else…?"

"Or else," Geralt echoes. He licks his lips. "You don't get to come."

"Oh," Jaskier says, sounding delighted. "How will you make me?"

Geralt answers gruffly, "Hold you down. Or tie you up, maybe."

"Ooh, good, that's—"

"What you want, right?" Geralt's throat is bobbing when he breathes and he can't bring himself to look at Jaskier's face, to see— "You like getting pushed around."

Softly, Jaskier says, "Sometimes. Do you like pushing?"

"I think—" 

Geralt cuts off, suddenly remembering himself with a twist in his stomach. He feels… wrong. Like someone's pressing two fingers against the soft underside of his jaw.

"That's enough practice," he says roughly. "Point made."

"Um, yeah. Yes." Jaskier's laugh is thin. "Right, see, I was right. New career path unfolding before you. I could be your agent. You could narrate those steamy romance novels for Audible, actually, do you think there's more money in that than phone sex operators?"

Ridiculous schemes—a fumbling punt into familiar conversation.

Geralt tucks his chin and asks, "Are you a business major?"

"God, no," Jaskier answers. "Musical composition."

"Hm," Geralt remarks drily. "Not sure I should trust my lucrative future with you, then."

"For the sake of our friendship I am going to graciously ignore that comment," Jaskier tells him primly.

Geralt hums again. "What friendship?"

"Honestly, Geralt!" Jaskier huffs, also familiar. "One of these days you'll admit your undying love for me."

"Mm," Geralt says noncommittally. He curls up on his side and lets his phone rest on the pillow next to him. "Tell me how you ended up studying music."

Jaskier launches into the story happily, which apparently starts with being six and watching an Off-Broadway production of Cats the musical. Geralt watched that movie with Triss ironically, which he means to point out, but the animated cadence of Jaskier's voice is too soothing to interrupt.

The last thing Geralt thinks before he finally, blessedly sleeps is, Fuck.

 

~*~

 

Geralt wakes up to a dead phone. Luckily for him, his only plan today was to go riding and take an afternoon shift at the barn to reduce Roach's board, so it doesn't affect his schedule too much.

He's grooming Roach before their ride when Jaskier sends him a message on Snapchat. Geralt opens the two pictures that Jaskier sent him earlier in the day first.

dandilionbard: [A blurry selfie taken outdoors, in which Jaskier appears to be giving a thumbs up] GUESS WHOS PHONE DIED LAST NIGHT LOLOL IM SO LATE

dandilionbard: [A half-empty classroom; Jaskier is clearly sitting in the back] WHY did I run to class if no one was going to show up today anyway you're all fake

dandilionbard: (chat) Send me a snap >:(

Geralt frowns at his phone.

whitewolf95: Why?

Roach nuzzles at his hand; he pets her absently.

dandilionbard: So we don't lose our streak!!

What the fuck is a streak? Geralt taps the video call button. An actual conversation would be way more efficient.

Jaskier declines the call.

dandilionbard: I'm in class!!

Geralt rolls his eyes.

whitewolf95: Then why are you texting me

dandilionbard: Ok do you see the little flame emoji near our name

dandilionbard: That's the days we've snapped each other in a row

dandilionbard: The hourglass means it'll go away soon if you don't send smthn

dandilionbard: (you are an old man)

Geralt presses his forehead against Roach's neck. She's sweaty and loose hair tickles Geralt's nose.

whitewolf95: That's pointless

dandilionbard: :(

It should bother Geralt more that he can translate a single frowning face into Jaskier's actual expression. Instead, he smooths out Roach's forelock so that it lays nicer and snaps a picture.

whitewolf95: [A selfie of him and Roach. He's staring into the camera with a blank expression while Roach tries to nibble at his hair] That's pointless

Geralt resumes curry-combing Roach's coat, kicking up loose dust and hair that makes his eyes water with an almost-sneeze. He checks his phone again when he goes to switch to his hard brush.

dandilionbard: Omg is that roach?? :D

whitewolf95: No. I took a picture with a random horse to fuck with you.

There's a snapchat from Yen, too.

yenven333: [Another selfie taken from under a desk, this time mid-eye roll] Do you think the students think I can't see them texting in class, or they foolishly assume that I won't be Petty about it when I grade their essays?

Geralt snorts.

whitewolf95: [Roach side-eyeing the camera] You're also texting in class

yenven333: (chat) Hi, Roach!

yenven333: (chat) Tissaia doesn't pay me enough to earn my undivided attention

Geralt tabs back over to his other conversation while he brushes Roach down.

dandilionbard: I am 70% sure you're joking but in my defense that is ABSOLUTELY something you would do to me

dandilionbard: Does Roach know that she's the prettiest horse in the goddamn world?? Give her a smorch for me immediately

Geralt smiles, running a hand across Roach's shoulder, and presses a kiss to her withers. She swishes her tail to swat at a fly and smacks him in the face.

whitewolf95: She knows.

dandilionbard: Can I meet her?

Geralt brushes down Roach's other side with the hard brush, then switches to the soft brush. He grooms her head gently, a hand cupped steadily over the flat of her face. She tosses her head a little, getting impatient, and goes for his hair again.

"Do you think I'm being an idiot?" he asks her. They don't have conversations like this very often anymore. He could pinpoint when that changed, but… "Yeah, yeah, I know. Don't judge me."

whitewolf95: Have you ever ridden a horse before?

dandilionbard: Ridden is a strong word for being upright in the saddle for approximately three minutes and then very much not being upright and breaking my arm in two places!

Geralt sighs, then fixes Roach with a stern expression. "Will you be nice to him?"

Roach paws at the ground, narrowly missing Geralt's foot.

"Didn't think so."

whitewolf95: You can stand at least six feet away at all times and not touch her unless I tell you to.

whitewolf95: These are real rules. Not the fake kind you can break.

dandilionbard: :D

 

~*~

 

Geralt hides his face in his hands as Jaskier leads the entire bar in a raucous rendition of "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy."

"There was literally no part of you that saw this coming?" Renfri asks.

Geralt shakes his head.

"G, I love you so much," Renfri tells him. "And you are so fucking stupid."

 

~*~

 

Geralt's tossing and turning one night, his face pressed into his pillow in frustration as he legitimately, briefly considers smothering himself so he can get some goddamn sleep. 

It's not that this happens often. Once or twice a week, maybe, which is less than it used to. He'd blame it on the shit bartending schedule, but he wasn't bartending as a kid; at least there's some excuse now.

But however often it happens, it's fucking torture. He should probably accept defeat and get out of bed, find something to funnel the murky vortex of his non-thoughts into. 

Talking to Jaskier helped before, but that was an accident. He can't just…

Well, he literally could just call. But that feels—

Like taking up space Geralt doesn't deserve. A little like shame, for needing something.

Jaskier needs things from Geralt all the time. A fancy cocktail, help finding a misplaced pair of sunglasses, someone to hide behind when he pisses off the wrong drunk. And if Jaskier can need Geralt so loudly, then…

Maybe Geralt can ask, too.

whitewolf95: [A grainy picture of Geralt's nearly pitch black room] Are you awake?

dandilionbard: (chat) Yeah!!!!!

Very awake. Geralt taps on the video call button; it rings twice—loud and insistent—before Jaskier picks up.

"Geraaaalt!" he shouts, jumping up and down with the camera. He's in a huge crowd of people and the background music is heavy with bass. "Hi!"

Geralt smiles despite himself. "Why are you at a party? It's a Thursday."

"I can't hear you!" Jaskier briefly turns the camera around to show off wherever he is. "I'm at a party!"

Yeah, this was a mistake.

Geralt goes to hang up, but Jaskier says, "Hang on!"

He moves through the crowd of people until the scenery changes and the music turns muffled; it looks like he's out on a porch somewhere, leaning his head up against the siding of a house.

"Hi," he says again, much easier to understand now. His pupils are a little dilated and he's grinning wildly.

"This was a mistake," says Geralt. "Sorry. Go back to your party."

"No, no, it's okay!" Jaskier is focused on something on his screen. He taps at his phone and suddenly a filter appears—the one that makes him look like a dog. "What's up, you can't sleep?"

Geralt says, "I don't wanna keep you."

"Unfortunately for you," Jaskier tells him cheerfully, scrolling through filters, "you're stuck with me now."

He settles on a filter that gives him heart-shaped freckles. Geralt smiles faintly and admits, "I can't sleep."

"Ooh! I can tell you about my mean TA who hates me for no reason," Jaskier says.

Geralt rolls onto his stomach, tucking one arm under the pillow to prop up his cheek. "I'm sure it's not for no reason.”

"Geralt," Jaskier scolds. He's wearing a flower crown now. "Keep the rude commentary to yourself, sir."

There's the sound of a door opening, followed by a temporary burst of music. Jaskier's head turns briefly, then fixes on the camera again. 

"Mm," Geralt says agreeably.

"Okay, what you need to understand is that I'm in this class by mistake, but my mother didn't raise a quitter," Jaskier begins. "And also, I physically forgot that you could quit before the drop/add date."

Geralt laughs, letting his eyes flutter shut as Jaskier switches to yet another filter. He tucks his face into the crook of his arm and lets his breathing slow.

 

~*~

 

Geralt is pouring a round of tequila shots, keeping an eye on Jaskier as he flirts with a group of girls hunched over a song book, when Yen slides up to the bar.

"Hey, stranger," she says, flashing a smile.

Geralt smiles back, meeting her halfway for a kiss. It's been a while since she's stopped by while he was working. "Hey."

"Can I get a Merlot?" Yen asks.

Geralt's already pulling out a glass. "Rough week?"

"I'm going to kill them, Geralt," she answers flatly. "None will be spared."

Renfri appears at Geralt's side with the bottle of wine he was looking for. "Who're we killing?"

Yen intercepts the bottle and pours herself a very full glass. "My students."

Geralt purses his lips sympathetically.

“I’m in,” Renfri tells her.

"Do you think I've gone soft?" Yen asks. "They used to be afraid of me. Maybe if I started wearing all black again."

Renfri scrutinizes her face and decides, "I feel like you used to wear more eyeliner. That could help."

Geralt turns his attention away, looking for Jaskier, but the entire table he was at a minute ago is empty. Not a good sign.

"What're you looking at?" Yen asks, leaning into his field of vision.

Geralt hums.

"He's looking for that regular I was telling you about," Renfri says. She takes a long sip from Yen's glass, smacking her lips. "The one he wants to fuck."

Geralt says, "I don't—"

"Ooh, is he here?" Yen asks, grinning wickedly. "Do I get to meet him?"

Geralt insists, "I don't want to—" and then Jaskier pours himself into the stool right next to Yen.

"Geraaaalt, can—"

"No," Yen says immediately, cutting him off with a sharp arc of her hand. "No, no, absolutely not, Julian, I was here first—you've got to leave."

"Julian?" Geralt repeats.

Jaskier's eyes widen comically when he turns to face Yen. Geralt can practically see the gears turning before he ultimately settles on a wide grin.

"Hi, Yennefer!" he says brightly. "How's it going? I didn't know you liked karaoke."

"No," Yen says again. "Nope. We're not doing this."

Renfri leans forward with her elbows on the bar, looking a little like a shark who smells blood. "What is happening here?"

"I specifically come to Rivia because my students don't," Yen tells Jaskier. "Because I don't drink with my students. Especially not you."

"I thought it was the charming company," Geralt deadpans.

Yen fixes him with a glare. "You—don't start."

"Ooh!" Jaskier claps his hands together. "Do you two know each other?"

Yen blinks rapidly and asks, "Do you?"

Renfri's voice turns singsong. "Hey Yennefer, do you remember…?"

Geralt snaps his fingers in Jaskier's face. "Did she call you Julian?"

"Erm." Jaskier smiles sheepishly. "Nickname?"

"No, no," says Yen. "Geralt, tell me this isn't happening."

"This isn't happening." Geralt grabs Jaskier's sleeve when he tries to flee the scene. "I knew you lied, you little—"

Triss' voice cuts in over the sound system.

"Up next is Jaskier singing 'I Want it That Way.' Jaskier!"

"Gotta go, honey, bye!" Jaskier tugs free, ignoring Geralt's scowl, and practically scrambles up onto the stage.

"Geralt," says Yen.

"Uh." Geralt scrubs a hand over his face. "It's not him?"

Jaskier grabs the microphone and says, "Hi, everyone! This song is in honor of me and Geralt's thirty day snap streak. Everyone please congratulate Geralt on one month of being a normal adult man!"

Yen chugs the rest of her wine.

Renfri says, "I love my fucking job."

"Ger," Yen says, sounding a little frantic. "I know we're not exclusive or whatever, but you cannot fuck my least favorite student."

Geralt bristles defensively. "Why?"

"Because he's terrible," Yen argues. "And I know him, and it's just weird."

"You're fucking Ren," Geralt counters. On principle.

Yen asks, "Do you hate Renfri?"

Renfri jabs an elbow directly into Geralt's kidney.

"We're focusing on the wrong thing," he says instead. "I don't wanna fuck him."

Yen snorts derisively; Renfri rolls her eyes and tugs at Yen's wrist to pull her into a sidebar.

Meanwhile, Jaskier is still performing, flitting around the stage and belting out the chorus to his stupid corny song. His shirt is half-popped at the collar, presumably not on purpose, and is coming untucked from his unnecessarily tight pants.

He must have a sixth sense for when Geralt is looking at him. His eyes light up and he points to Geralt dramatically, then clutches that hand to his chest.

"'Am I your fire?'" he sings over the echo of voices shouting along. "'Your one desire?'"

Geralt laughs and shakes his head, resting his cheek on one hand. 

"'Yes I know, it's too late,'" Jaskier begs with exaggerated earnestness, still singing directly to Geralt. "'But I want it that way!"

Geralt raises his eyebrows in exasperation and mouths, 'Fuck off.'

Jaskier throws his head back when he belts out the start of the chorus. "'Tell me why! Ain't nothin' but a heartbreak!'"

He starts jumping around again after that, covering the entire length of the stage with the kind of flurried, inexhaustible energy that Geralt's never understood in his life. But, Christ, if it isn't something to watch.

"Holy shit," Yen says, tugging at Geralt's attention. "What in God's name is happening to your face?"

Geralt is still mostly watching Jaskier, who spins around so enthusiastically that he almost trips over the microphone stand; he bites back a smile and says, "Hm?"

"Ohh, fuck me with a hairbrush." Renfri grips him by the jaw and turns his face towards her. "You don't wanna fuck him. You like him."

Geralt tugs away from her, blinking stupidly.

"Oh my God," says Yen. "Oh my God. Of all the people— what do you see in him?"

"Nothing," Geralt grunts. He eyes the neglected crowd accumulating at the bar and tries to move towards the nearest customer. "I don't…"

Yen stops him by saying, "Genuinely, Geralt, if I didn't personally know your track record I would question your—actually, I'm still questioning your taste. Am I the exception to the rule?"

"Uhh, spring break, freshman year, remember?" Renfri points at herself with both index fingers. "Baby-Face is definitely the exception."

Geralt glares at her. "We agreed to forget about that."

"Yeah, but now it's convenient for me."

Jaskier's song ends and Triss announces the next performer.

Geralt tries to extricate himself again, leaning over the bar and clearly making eye contact with a woman holding a credit card.

Renfri yanks him back by the jacket and he goes willingly, sighing deeply.

"Actually, I'm getting the thread here," she says, eyes flicking between the hand fisted in his clothes and his patient face. "You just like anyone who has the balls to boss you around."

"That's a good point, actually," Yen muses. She licks her lips and leans towards Geralt across the bar.

Renfri counts out points by gesturing with one hand through the air. "Powerful women, bratty twinks…"

"What's this about my people?" Jaskier reappears beside Yen, sweaty and a little out of breath. Geralt pours him a glass of water wordlessly. "Thank you."

Geralt elbows Renfri in the ribs. She ignores him and tells Jaskier, "Geralt's type."

Jaskier spits out his water, blinking rapidly. "Oh? Oh. Erm, as in—?"

Geralt presses his fingers into his temples.

"Sorry, sorry, um, I try not to assume, so?" Jaskier laughs awkwardly. "I wasn't sure."

Renfri pats Geralt firmly on the ass. "G spends too much money on his hair to be straight."

"You make a fair point," Jaskier says faintly. He frowns down at the glass in his hands.

Geralt furrows his eyebrows. "Are you okay?"

Jaskier looks up like he's about to say something, but Yen beats him to it.

"Well, as fun as this was, I'm leaving." She leans across the bar and sinks her teeth into Geralt's bottom lip, bracing a hand on his upper arm. "See you tonight?"

It's incredibly fucking petty, even for her. Geralt still tosses her his keys.

"I'm sorry," Jaskier says, waving his water in Geralt's face. "Just to clarify—you're not straight?"

Geralt raises his eyebrows in acknowledgement.

"But you are dating my TA who hates me for no reason?" Jaskier's eyes widen. "Oh my God, does she hate me for this reason?"

Geralt looks to Renfri at a loss. She's actually doing their job, which means he's on his own.

"Uh." Geralt grabs the water away before Jaskier spills it. "Dating's… a word?"

"It is," Jaskier agrees, sounding incredibly exasperated. "Is it an accurate one?"

Geralt can feel that itch again. The one that comes with not sleeping. He asks, "Does it matter?"

"'Does it—'" Jaskier laughs again, even less genuinely than last time. He pushes away from the bar and flails, slightly, catching his balance. "You know, I'm actually, I'm gonna go, I think? I think I should—I'll pay you… around."

"What?" Geralt asks. "Are you okay to get home?"

Jaskier stares at him. "I walk. You know I walk, so why would you—"

"Because you seem upset!" Geralt snaps.

Jaskier smiles, lots of teeth flashing while he shakes his head and the sweat makes his hair flop in his face.

"See you around, Geralt," he says, and goes.

The girl at the karaoke mic is singing "Hit Me, Baby, One More Time."

"Fuck," Geralt says to Renfri, but her back is turned. "What the fuck just happened?"

 

~*~

 

Yen fucks him with his wrists pinned to the bed. She comes twice and draws blood scratching at his shoulder and comes a third time as he does, and when they're sprawled next to each other and the sweat is cooling on their bodies she asks, "What're you thinking?"

"Nothing," he says.

She laughs and tells him, "We both know that's not true. You're worried about if the door's really locked and if you made it good enough for me, and whatever happened after I left the bar."

Geralt's eyes are closed. He smiles. "Then why ask?"

"Because I don't know what happened after I left the bar," she whispers, turning on her side to face him.

He lolls his head to the side, cracking his eyes open.

"Geralt," she says slowly, wetting her bottom lip. "I know we don't always… say it. And I haven't really cared."

"But…?" he prompts.

Yen brushes a strand of hair away from his face. "I need to know if you want him. So I can know how to feel about it."

Geralt's tongue is too heavy. He clears his throat and says nothing.

Yen smiles, a pursing of her kiss-worn lips, and says, "There's my answer."

"It doesn't…" Geralt cuts off and tries again. "It doesn't make this matter less."

"I know," she answers softly. She gets up and pads into the bathroom, where she stays for several minutes while Geralt stares at the ceiling.

Yen slips into his discarded shirt and crawls back into bed. She sweeps her hair away from her face, laying on her side and tracing a hand up his chest, and asks, "At least wait until the semester's over, will you?"

Geralt frowns, folding his fingers over her wrist. "Are you sure?"

Yen cups his jaw with her other hand, thumbing gently at his stubble, and whispers, "Anyone who can make you smile like that should be in your life. Whatever I think of him."

Geralt probably loves her. He closes his eyes and pretends it doesn't lodge in his throat.

"Doesn't matter," he mutters.

"Oh, don't sulk." She pats him on the cheek. "What makes you think that?"

Geralt grimaces. "I'm… old."

Yen snorts. She tugs her wrist free and resumes the lazy shapes she's tracing against his skin. "From what Renfri's told me, you're a little young."

"But he doesn't…" Geralt sighs, frustrated. He can feel her staring at him, but it's easier in the dark. "Those aren't relationships."

"Please don't make me argue for this," Yen tells him, half-seriously. "I'll be sick."

Geralt rolls over, grabs the trash can he keeps on his side of the bed, and holds it out to her.

"You are patently the worst." She takes it a little forcefully and sets it down on the far side. His eyes are open now and he can see that she's smiling. "Look, would it help if I told you my class is only open to upperclassmen?"

Geralt squints thoughtfully. "Hm. You could find out if the ID is fake."

"I'm not doing that." Yen pats his cheek again, more firmly this time. "Learn to live with a little uncertainty, Geralt, it's good for you."

Geralt grunts skeptically.

Yen shuffles over to rest her head on his chest. He wraps an arm around her, fingers tapping lightly at her hip.

"Would you call me?" he asks suddenly.

"Hm?" Yen starts to pull away, reaching towards the nightstand. "Did you lose your phone?"

"No," he says, tugging her back. "If you needed me."

Yen is quiet, her words measured. "I don't need you."

"If you did."

"Where is this coming from?"

Geralt slides his hand up her ribs, back down again, and says nothing.

She asks, "Would you call me?"

"No," he says. "But I'd want to."

Yen tilts her face up and presses a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "Go to sleep, Geralt."

He leans over and turns out the light.

 

~*~

 

Geralt sends Jaskier three pictures the next day and feels increasingly ridiculous with each one.

whitewolf95: [A batch of eggs frying in a pan]

whitewolf95: [Roach from a distance, grazing in the pasture] Nice weather

whitewolf95: [Renfri shoving an entire croissant into her mouth at their favorite coffee shop. She's staring at something off-screen, apparently unaware that Geralt is taking a picture.] "I'm a motherfucking princess." -Renfri, five seconds ago

Jaskier opens each one. He doesn't respond to any of them. 

Geralt frowns when the little hourglass shows up next to their streak count that evening.

whitewolf95: (chat) Send me something before our streak goes away

Jaskier starts and stops typing four times. After a few minutes, Geralt gives up and pockets his phone.

When he checks it later, there's no hourglass next to Jaskier's name anymore and a series of unopened videos.

A young woman who Geralt recognizes as one of Jaskier's friends is holding a clear plastic cup with some kind of drink inside; there's something dark at the bottom of the cup. She looks down at it skeptically, then narrows her eyes at the camera when she notices it.

After a beat of hesitation, the girl takes a drink through her straw, starts to chew, then scrunches up her face in displeasure.

"Oh my God," she says. "What is that?"

Jaskier laughs brightly from off-camera. "It's the bubbles!"

"The bub—" she reaches over and smacks him, jostling the camera. "Oh my God, Julian, you're such a dick! Gimme—"

The video cuts off abruptly.

dandilionbard: New convert

Geralt purses his lips. Does this mean Jaskier is done avoiding him?

whitewolf95: (chat) What the hell is that?

Jaskier opens the chat, types on and off for several minutes, then finally sends a message.

dandilionbard: Omg ofc you don't know what bubble tea is I'm taking you immediately

Geralt probably shouldn't feel so smug about it.

 

~*~

 

dandilionbard: [A picture of Geralt hunched over a little table, frowning with benign curiosity at a cup of bubble tea. His hair is falling loose from the bun he tied it up in, framing the profile of his face.] Get you a man who looks at you like G looks at bubble tea

"I'm right here," Geralt grumbles. "Why did you send this to me?"

"Hush, you grouch." Jaskier waves him off with an absent-minded hand. "Drink your tea."

It's pretty good.

 

~*~

 

"Geraaaalt," Jaskier whines. "I'm bored."

Geralt hefts Roach's saddle and saddle pad off her back. "Then stop coming."

He sets her tack out of the way and grabs his curry comb.

Jaskier kicks his legs against the paddock fence he's perched on top of. "Ooh, can I learn to groom Roach?"

"No," Geralt tells him. 

"Why not?" Jaskier hops to his feet. "I think she's starting to like me!"

Geralt turns his face away as he curries the coating of dust off Roach's legs. "Roach's tolerance of you is inversely proportional to how close you stand to her."

"Ooh, what if I feed her one of these little treats, though?" Jaskier rustles around in Geralt's bag. "What are these, anyway? Can humans eat them? Ick, that's—hm, you know, I could get used to it. Is that molasses?"

Geralt keeps his head turned as he stands, hiding the smile twitching onto his face. "Do you know how to feed a horse?"

"Hm?" Jaskier appears next to him, holding a horse treat with an obviously human bite mark in it pinched between his fingers. "Can't you just—"

Geralt grabs his hand away, stepping between Jaskier and the suddenly very interested horse attempting to trample him.

"How much do you like your fingers?" Geralt asks.

"Erm," Jaskier says. He makes no attempt to increase the space between the two of them, craning his neck to meet Geralt's eyes. "Is that a trick question?"

Geralt leans back against Roach's chest, encouraging her to back up. She nickers impatiently, but takes a step and a half back and tries to chew on his hair instead.

He probably should have taught her better ground manners. Vesemir always said he had too much of a soft spot.

"Keep your hand flat," Geralt says, turning Jaskier's palm up to demonstrate. "Like this. Offer it to her from underneath, so she doesn't bite."

Jaskier nods, holding his hand out with the treat resting in his palm. Geralt slips a hand above Roach's muzzle just in case, encouraging her to be gentle. She nickers again, taking the treat, then tries to snuffle around in Jaskier's jacket for more.

"Ah, that tickles!" Jaskier giggles, then retreats over the fence into the neighboring paddock when Roach tries to tug away from Geralt and headbutt him. "Oh, no thank you, good girl!"

Geralt laughs and lets her go, resuming their post-ride grooming.

Jaskier climbs back onto the fence and sits. He's watching two of the older women who board here lead their horses in from the pasture.

"Geralt," he asks, tilting his head when one of the women ties her horse to the covered area across the way from them. "Why don't you tie Roach like that when you groom her, so she stays still?"

"She gets scared," Geralt answers. He pats Roach's rear as he moves around to her other side. "Broke her last owner's nose that way."

Jaskier's laugh is a complicated sound. "You know, you really surround yourself with terrifying women, don't you? Roach included."

Geralt quirks his lips. "They don't scare me. You meet someone smarter or more competent than you and it scares you, that's your problem."

"I say 'terrifying' with the utmost respect," Jaskier clarifies.

"Hm," Geralt says skeptically. "Pass me the hard brush."

Jaskier hands him the soft brush.

"No," says Geralt.

"Are they not the same?" Jaskier asks, frowning at the other brush, which he passes over.

Geralt runs his fingers over the bristles to demonstrate. "This one is stiffer. You use it after the curry comb loosens the dirt. The soft brush comes after, and it's the only one you should use on her face."

Jaskier says, "You know a lot about this."

Geralt lifts Roach's mane to brush underneath it. "It's literally the first thing they teach you."

"Well, you've gotta humor me," Jaskier tells him, sounding mildly defensive. "I'm a city boy."

Geralt glances over. Jaskier is dressed in recently-muddied Converse, a pair of purple skinny jeans with the cuffs rolled up, and a short-sleeved collared shirt under the unzipped sweatshirt Geralt lent him. The sleeves keep falling down over his hands.

"I noticed," he answers drily.

"Rude." Jaskier huffs. "Well, your… tight… things make you look like a Pride and Prejudice character."

"Breeches."

"Whatever."

Geralt shakes his head and turns back to Roach. He finishes grooming her and then checks his phone—the weather's going to stay nice through the morning—and calculates the likelihood that he's gonna regret what he says next.

"Hey, city boy," he says. "Wanna help me wash her?"

Jaskier beams at him. "Sure! How can I help?"

Geralt slips a halter over Roach's ears and attaches the lead rope. "Follow me."

Jaskier unlatches the gate for him and trails a safe distance to the side, waiting next to Geralt when they stop in front of the hose.

"I'll hold her and you can spray her down," Geralt explains. He turns the water on, adjusting it to get the pressure right. "Don't spray her face. Put your thumb over it so it comes out wider. Walk around her front, not behind."

"Yes sir," Jaskier answers enthusiastically. He grabs the hose and does as Geralt says. "Okay, Miss Roachie, let's give you a nice bath, hm? Is this wet enough? Ohh, that feels nice, doesn't it? Jeez, it's hot today and you worked so hard!"

Roach noses at Geralt's shoulder. He nuzzles against the side of her face, petting at her cheek and smiling faintly while Jaskier keeps up a stream of chatter. 

Jaskier touches lightly at Geralt's back when he walks around to the other side. "You two are precious."

Geralt hums, reaching up to scratch behind Roach's ear. She nibbles at his shirt.

"Alrighty, is that good?" Jaskier asks. 

Geralt gently pushes Roach away so he can take a look at her. "Hm. Can you get under her belly more?"

Jaskier nods, giving it another pass. 

Geralt takes the hose, pointing it carefully away, and then hands Jaskier the lead rope. "She can smell fear."

"I understand your point is to tell me to chill out," Jaskier says, "but the phrasing is, erm, counterproductive."

Geralt ignores him. He takes the water pressure down a notch and washes underneath Roach's tail and between her hind legs, cleaning out the grime that builds up there. She twitches at him, mildly annoyed, but tolerates it.

Jaskier's wrinkled nose is evident in his voice. "Ah. I can see why we traded jobs."

Geralt shuts the hose off after rinsing his hands, then takes the rope back. "Can you get me that plastic thing that looks like a squeegee?"

Jaskier grabs the sweat scraper from Geralt's bag and, after instruction, uses it to slick the excess water from Roach's coat. He also sneaks her a treat or two, which Geralt was planning on doing anyway, so he doesn't comment.

"Okay, I'm gonna turn her out now." Geralt nods at Jaskier. "Say bye."

"Bye, Roachie," Jaskier coos. Watching Geralt's face for a reaction, he reaches out and pets Roach on her neck.

Geralt clucks his tongue and leads her out to her pasture; she tosses her head as soon as he slips off the halter and canters straight for her herd in the far corner. 

He shakes his head, watching her go for a peaceful moment, then heads back towards the barn.

Jaskier is still over by the hose, peering at something on the ground. "Hey, Ger," he says, "can you come look at this?"

"Hm?" Geralt comes up behind him and follows his gaze.

The hose blasts him in the face.

Geralt scowls and jumps back in shock, trying to dodge the spray that Jaskier still has trained on him.

"Oh, fuck you!" he gripes, baring his teeth in a half-smile. He lunges for the hose; Jaskier laughs delightedly and hops out of the way. 

"Honestly, Geralt," he says brightly, "you're even filthier than the horse! I'm doing you a favor!"

"Come here." Geralt manages to get an arm around Jaskier's middle, which mostly serves to send the hose's trajectory straight up, showering them both. He tightens his grip to keep Jaskier from wriggling away and fumbles for the valve with his other hand.

The water shuts off. 

Jaskier twists in Geralt's grip to shoot him a shit-eating grin. They're pressed right up against each other, his back sticking to Geralt's soaked shirt.

Geralt clears his throat and asks, "Where's your phone?"

"Hm? It's in your bag, wh— Geralt! Put me down!"

Geralt hums, readjusts his grip so Jaskier is slung more securely over his shoulder, and then dunks him in the water trough.

Jaskier comes up drenched and spluttering, "You're a horrible man!"

"Hm." Geralt holds out a hand and helps him climb back out. "You started it."

Jaskier hops a little to regain his footing, then shakes his hair out like a dog. He still follows dutifully when Geralt walks back to their paddock.

"Okay," Jaskier says, apparently done sulking already. "We have to get a picture like this."

Geralt sighs reluctantly.

Jaskier fishes his phone out from Geralt's bag and then tucks himself against Geralt's side to pose.

Geralt looks into the camera with a dour expression.

"Oh, smile for once," Jaskier scolds. His hand makes a wet slapping sound when he smacks Geralt's chest. "Pretend you like me half as much as you like your terrible horse."

Geralt looks over at him in amusement, halfway through formulating a retort, when Jaskier suddenly flits away again. 

"There we go!" he says. "Was that so hard?"

Geralt rolls his eyes. "Send me that."

"Oh!" Jaskier looks up from typing a caption. "Sure."

Geralt gathers up Roach's tack to clean it in the tack room where he stores it all; Jaskier trails after him, still texting.

He trips over the doorway. 

Geralt snorts when Jaskier stumbles into him. "Really?"

"Let me rest, Geralt." Jaskier goes to sit down in a chair in the corner, frowns when he sees the thick layer of dust covering everything in here, and stays standing instead. 

Geralt hums, promising nothing, and starts rubbing conditioner into the leather.

There's a peaceful silence. Geralt's not sure what possesses him to break it.

"We fuck other people," he says.

"Excuse me?" Jaskier asks.

"Me and Yen." Geralt hangs his bridle up. "That's why I wasn't sure what to say before."

Jaskier sets his phone down somewhere, heavily. "Oh. So it's not serious?"

Geralt frowns. "It… is. We're together, I guess. Just not… exclusively."

"Oh," Jaskier says again, his tone picking up. "So like polyamory?"

"Like what?"

"Like, where you can date someone but also other people," Jaskier explains, sounding a little exasperated. "And it's not cheating."

Geralt scrubs his saddle with more force than necessary. "Uh, sure."

"'Uh, sure,'" Jaskier repeats, mocking Geralt's tone of voice. "Honestly, why are you even telling me this?"

Geralt shrugs uncomfortably. He can feel the water sloshing in his boots.

"Geralt," Jaskier says quietly. "Why are we friends?"

"We're not," Geralt deadpans automatically.

"Genuinely," Jaskier says, the levity leeching away.

Geralt abandons the saddle and turns to look at him. He's leaning gingerly against the wall, looking a little bit like a drowned rat in the oversized sweatshirt, and his eyes are too big for even the softness of his cheeks. 

"You terrify me," says Geralt.

Jaskier smiles faintly, highlighting the dusting of pink on his face.

"That sounds like your problem," he says.

Geralt turns back to his saddle. It really is.

 

~*~

 

dandilionbard: [They're both dripping wet from head to toe. Jaskier is grinning at the camera like a self-satisfied cat; Geralt is looking at him like he wants to be the canary.] Pretty sure he's never letting me come back again #worthit

-YOU TOOK A SCREENSHOT!-

dandilionbard: (chat) [smiling face emoji with three hearts around it]

 

~*~

 

Geralt's drinking his third Bud Light on the couch, trying to process the sheer volume of people squeezed into Jaskier's rented townhouse, when Jaskier climbs over the back of said couch and plops down next to him.

"Geralt! Are you having fun?" he asks. There's a red Solo cup filled with (probably spiked) punch in his hand, perilously close to getting dumped all over Geralt's shirt. "You don't look like you're having fun, but you pretty much never do. I know you don't really know anyone, should I introduce you to some people? I'm sorry Renfri couldn't come."

Renfri is covering Geralt's shift at Rivia so that he could come.

Geralt plucks the drink out of Jaskier's hand and says, "I'm trying to figure out how you got so many people to come to a fake birthday party."

Jaskier vies for his drink, practically climbing over Geralt to reach for it. "It's not a fake party, oh my God. I can't believe you still don't believe me! It's honestly—oof—insulting."

"Hm." Geralt takes a sip of the fruit punch monstrosity; it's every bit as disgusting as he imagined. "They all call you Julian."

Jaskier snatches his cup back and takes a drink. "Sometimes I like going by Julian."

"Should I call you that?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier rests his cheek on the couch, peering up at him. "I like when you call me Jaskier."

"Because it's the name you use to sneak into my bar?"

"You're in-incorri—what's that word?"

"Incorrigible." Geralt takes the drink away again. "How much have you had?"

Jaskier pouts at him. "It's my party, I can drink if I want to! Ooh, we should play that song! Gimme my—Geralt?"

"Hm?" Jaskier's practically draped across Geralt's lap again, but he's clearly staring at something over Geralt's shoulder.

"Does that conversation by the fridge look a little… off to you?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt turns to look. There's a guy and a girl talking, but she's smiling almost apologetically while he talks. She looks around, takes a half-step backwards, and grimaces when he takes a full step towards her.

"Yeah," Geralt agrees. "Do you know them?"

Jaskier frowns thoughtfully. "I don't think so."

The girl looks around again, but whoever she's trying to find doesn't seem to be there.

"Isn't it your party?" Geralt asks.

"People just show up to these things." Jaskier narrows his eyes. "Okay, nope, she does not wanna talk to him. Should we do something?"

"Yeah," Geralt growls. "Wait here."

He goes to get up, but Jaskier pushes him back against the couch and says, "I've got it."

Geralt furrows his eyebrows cautiously, fully prepared to intervene anyway. He's throwing people out on Jaskier's behalf all the time, usually because Jas is the one they're mad at. Why would that be different now?

Jaskier taps the girl on the shoulder and throws his arms open wide; she looks confused for half a second before she plays along, hugging him tightly and going as far as to kiss him on the cheek. Jaskier puts an arm around her shoulders and leads her away from the guy, who looks thoroughly pissed off.

Geralt tries to make space for them both on the couch when he realizes they're coming back over, but Jaskier just gives the girl his seat and deposits himself directly into Geralt's lap.

"Uh," says Geralt, but Jaskier ignores him.

"Sorry," he's telling the girl. "I hope I didn't just ruin the lovely time you were having."

She waves both her hands at him and says, "No, no, thank you! I have no idea where my friends went, ugh."

Geralt wraps his arms loosely around Jaskier's waist, resting his forearms on Jaskier's thighs. He's still holding the punch, which Jaskier promptly steals from him.

"Do you have your phone?" Jaskier asks. "Also, I'm Julian. This is Geralt."

Geralt lifts a hand in acknowledgement.

"Sonya," she says, smiling faintly. "And yeah, but it's dead."

"Okay, let's try to find them, then! What do they look like?" Jaskier hands his cup back to Geralt and stands up again, helping Sonya to her feet. "And I've got a phone charger upstairs. Do you have an iPhone?"

Geralt watches, stunned, as Jaskier leads Sonya through the crowd. He asks after people along the way, or is maybe checking to see if anyone's seen who Sonya's looking for, until eventually Geralt loses track of him.

His Snapchat group with the girls is currently called Bake Sale for Yen's Bail Money. He snaps a picture of the forgotten Solo cup and sends it to them.

whitewolf95: Holding J's drink while he solves his own problems. Confused.

Jaskier reappears before anyone answers and climbs right back into Geralt's lap despite the fact that his old seat is now empty.

"Found her friends!" he says cheerfully. "Ooh, alcohol!"

That's more familiar, at least. Geralt hands Jaskier's drink back over to him and asks, "Why didn't you let me help?"

"Oh, don't sulk." Jaskier turns sideways, draping an arm around Geralt's neck. "I'll let you go all scary grizzly bear on the next one. Ooh, Ger-bear! How have I never thought of that? Can I call you Ger-bear?"

"No," Geralt says half-heartedly.

"I'm calling you Ger-bear," Jaskier decides. "Contrary to popular belief, I'm not totally incompetent, you know."

Geralt rests his hand on Jaskier's knee, frowning. "Didn't say you were."

Jaskier cups a hand over Geralt's ear and fake-whispers, "It was implied—but that's okay."

His breath is warm. Geralt's grip tightens a little.

"I like… doing things," Geralt tells him, and immediately feels like an asshole. "For… you."

Jaskier laughs, his whole body shaking with it and pressing him closer to Geralt. "I know, sweetheart. You're very good at it. Are you having fun at my party?"

Geralt's face feels hot. He doesn't know what to do with himself, suddenly, which way to bend his joints.

"It's loud," he says, the first thing he can think of.

"It's—" Jaskier laughs again. "You work at a bar!"

Geralt agrees, "Mm."

Jaskier slinks down, resting his temple against Geralt's shoulder, and says something Geralt can't hear.

Geralt tucks his head closer. "What?"

"I want you to be having fun," Jaskier murmurs. His fingers slip under the collar of Geralt's shirt, tapping at his collarbone.

"I am," Geralt says. He coughs lightly and sits up a little straighter. "Why don't you introduce me?"

Jaskier blinks, smiling in exasperation. "To who?"

Geralt shrugs. "People."

"'People,'" Jaskier mocks, deepening his voice. He sits up again and perks up a bit. "You're the worst."

"Mm." 

"Oh, fine, where's my drink? Oh, I'm holding it. Where's your drink?"

Geralt dislodges Jaskier from his lap to grab his beer off the coffee table. He gestures with it in acknowledgement.

"Great, except beer tastes like pee and you're a monster." Jaskier tries to snatch Geralt's bottle away, but Geralt holds him off. "Okay, okay, you're a very strong man who likes beer and meat, let's—oh, hi, Sarah! Sarah is people. Sarah, meet Geralt."

Sarah raises an eyebrow at the two of them. "Um, hi? Jule, is there more vodka?"

Jaskier drops his hold on Geralt's beer. "Stashed it in my room! I'll get it for you. Geralt, come."

Geralt snorts in protest, but lets himself be dragged along by the wrist anyway.

 

~*~

 

whitewolf95: [Geralt is staring into the camera with a raised eyebrow and a faint smile. Jaskier is sitting behind him, completely oblivious to the fact his picture is being taken, with his tongue poking out as he braids a sloppy crown into Geralt's hair] Happy birthday, J 

shrike_princess: Gross

yenven333: Gross

tmarigold: [heart eyes emoji]

-JASKIER TOOK A SCREENSHOT!-

dandilionbard: [crying emoji, heart emoji]

 

~*~

 

Geralt is lugging a trash bag around the townhouse, picking up half-empty Solo cups and beer bottles, while Jaskier plays the guitar upside down on the couch. It's nearly three AM and Jaskier's two roommates went to bed almost half an hour ago—not, Geralt suspects, due to laziness, but because there was some really aggressive whispering while Geralt was in the bathroom.

"I wanna go to sleeeeep," Jaskier warbles. "Wheeeeeen will Geralt let me sleep?"

"Now," Geralt says through gritted teeth. "Go to bed now. I'm literally begging."

Jaskier huffs and sits right-side up again. "I am your host, Ger-bear, I'm not going to sleep while you're cleaning my apartment. Which, by the way, I will say again that I didn't ask you to do."

"If you feel that bad," Geralt tells him drily, "you could help."

"Let's not go that far," says Jaskier.

Geralt finds a pizza box on top of the stove. He opens it—empty. Who the fuck ordered pizza?

"Geralt, seriously, we can clean in the morning." Jaskier stops strumming his guitar. "Are you having a very slow stroke? Are you going to die if you stop moving? Is it like how horses can't sleep laying down?"

"I told you that's not true," Geralt mutters.

Jaskier hops off the couch and tries to tug the trash bag out of Geralt's hands. "C'mon, please."

"Fine." Geralt leaves the bag on the floor and grabs his jacket from where he stashed it on the top of the fridge. "I'll head out."

"What?" Jaskier touches his arm. "That's not—it's, like, three in the morning, you're not driving?"

Geralt blinks at him.

"Stay here," Jaskier clarifies. He smiles tentatively, squeezing Geralt's bicep. "Let me make you breakfast in the morning, for the help."

"Uh, just call it part of your fake birthday present," Geralt says.

Jaskier crosses his arms. "I'm ignoring the shade because I am very tired and even more drunk than that."

"More reason for me to go," Geralt tells him. He pulls his car keys out of his pocket and jingles them decisively.

"Geralt, stay." Jaskier's bottom lip juts out dramatically. "At least let me open my actual present?"

Fuck, that look is gonna be the death of him.

Geralt sighs and pockets his keys.

Jaskier grins and darts into his room where he tucked Geralt's present under the bed at the start of the evening. He sits down cross-legged on the floor and pats the spot next to him.

Geralt rolls his eyes and sits.

"Should I guess what it is?" Jaskier asks. "Ooh, can I shake it? One time my parents gave me a chemistry set and when I—"

"Jas."

"Oh, spoilsport." 

Jaskier rips the paper off haphazardly—great, more to clean tomorrow—and then frowns when he sees the shoe box underneath. He tilts his head, lifting the lid, and then pulls out one black leather boot.

"Um," he says, "please explain."

"They're paddock boots," says Geralt.

"That doesn't help even a little bit, thank you."

"It's gonna rain a lot soon," Geralt says. "Uh, so. You can wear them to the barn and not ruin your shoes. And if Roach steps on you she won't break your foot."

"Oh," Jaskier says softly. He blinks rapidly, purses his lips, carefully replaces the boot in the shoe box.

Geralt is holding him.

His face is tucked into Geralt's neck and he hugs Geralt tightly, breathing unsteadily and hiccuping once and saying, "Sorry, sorry, thank you, sorry."

Geralt slides a confused hand up his back. "I can return them."

"What? You're a horrible man," Jaskier says wetly. "You're so stupid. 'Return them.' Geralt, they're perfect."

"See—" Geralt presses his nose into Jaskier's hair. "It's mixed signals, with the insults. And crying."

"Sorry, I'm sorry." Jaskier pulls away and scrubs at his face, sniffing delicately. "It's just that I still have this stupid fear sometimes where I worry you don't actually like me and I've just, um, bullied you into being my friend because I'm weird and annoying and it's easier to just tolerate me than to make me go away, but if you went through all this trouble—"

Geralt's stomach twists. "Jas—"

"—actually, how much are these, because if they're a pity gift I hope you didn't spend more than—"

"May fourteenth," Geralt says.

Jaskier blinks, sufficiently knocked off balance. "What? What's on May fourteenth?"

Geralt rubs a thumb over the back of Jaskier's shirt. "Final grades are due."

"And… you know that, why?" Jaskier asks, frowning lightly.

"I promised Yen," says Geralt.

Jaskier shakes his head in exasperation. "And are you going to tell me what you promised her, or are we gonna have to play twenty questions?"

"It might help."

"You know, Geralt," Jaskier tells him, "you're so emotionally constipated that sometimes I just wanna take you by the shoulders and shake you."

"It might help."

Jaskier takes Geralt by the shoulders and shakes him. He laughs helplessly while he does it, or maybe chokes back another burst of tears, hanging his head.

Geralt grabs him by the elbows, prompting him to look up with wide eyes.

"You terrify me because you're warm," Geralt says slowly. "And so… full… of everything. You share that—who you are, how you feel. And it doesn't make you weak."

Jaskier searches Geralt's face; the blue of his eyes impossibly tender, like there's pain there, with the hope. Softly, he asks, "Do you think it'd make you weak?"

Geralt swallows. "I'm trying not to."

"Geralt," Jaskier says. His hand touches Geralt's shirt, wringing the fabric between his fingers without looking. "What did you promise Yennefer?"

"That—" Geralt purses his lips. "I wouldn't… be with you, until the semester ended."

Jaskier furrows his eyebrows. "But you're with me right now?"

"Oh, fuck off," Geralt gripes, throwing his hands up despite the smile tucking the corners of his mouth. "You're not that dense."

"Ger-bear," Jaskier says, familiarly sing-song. "Do you wanna be my boyfriend?"

Geralt deadpans, "Not until May fourteenth."

Jaskier's grin is infectious, even though Geralt can't make himself show teeth. He relents to being folded into another hug and lets his arms go tight around Jaskier's back.

"I'll say yes," Jaskier whispers. "In case you were wondering."

Geralt's voice rasps; he flinches in shock. "Are you sure?"

Jaskier's fingers tighten in the back of Geralt's jacket. "Do you need me to sing about it?"

"Right now?" Geralt asks. "We could break into the bar."

"Shh." Jaskier presses his forehead against Geralt's temple. "Don't tempt me."

Geralt hums.

"So, um—if Yennefer knows we're getting together, and she's okay with it," Jaskier ventures. He lets go of Geralt's jacket and plays with his hair instead, letting it slip through his calloused fingers. "And we know we're getting together… can you stay? Just to—just to sleep."

Geralt leans away, hesitating. "I just think you had a lot to—"

"Oh, for fuck's sake, Geralt, I'm not asking to suck your dick while someone else rails me from behind!" Jaskier crosses his arms in his best full-body huff. "I can consent to a little PG-13 cuddling with our clothes on."

Geralt raises an eyebrow. "That was a really specific alternative."

"I have a rich fantasy life." Jaskier hops to his feet with a surprising amount of coordination. "If you're making excuses because you don't want to stay, please just tell me and I'll let you leave, I swear."

Geralt blinks up at him. "I’ll stay, Jas."

Jaskier's pout breaks into a soft smile. He holds out both hands to help Geralt to his feet. "Do you want sleep clothes? I'm pretty sure I've got at least one pair of sweatpants that'll fit over that lovely bottom of yours."

"Lovely bottom?" Geralt repeats flatly.

"Oh, please, you own at least one mirror." Jaskier is digging around in a laundry hamper. "Actually, is that a natural blessing of yours or could I get an ass like that if I started riding?"

"No," Geralt deadpans.

Jaskier lobs a pair of sweatpants at Geralt's head. "Oh, you're awful. You're so mean to your future boyfriend who is graciously lending you his comfiest pair of pants."

"You know I go to the gym, right?" Geralt asks, shimmying out of his jeans. "Like, five days a week. I'll teach you how to deadlift if you want an ass."

"Exercise gives me hives."

"Then so will riding."

"And Roach would kill me?" Jaskier adds. He's in the process of stripping off his shirt when Geralt looks over.

Geralt clears his throat. "Yeah."

"Decent way to go," says Jaskier. He shrugs into a ratty old t-shirt with the name of what Geralt assumes is a high school on it. "Wanna borrow a toothbrush?"

Geralt hums noncommittally; it's getting to be around the time he normally goes to bed after working, and he feels that unholy combination of drowsy and uneasy—but Jaskier seems to interpret it in the affirmative.

"M'kay, come." He touches briefly at Geralt's lower back and then breezes past him, leading the way into a bathroom down the hall.

Geralt follows, takes the unopened toothbrush when Jaskier offers it, and stares dumbly while Jaskier hums to himself in the mirror.

It's setting in. All of it. A healthy dose of exhaustion and this warm, horrible feeling in his gut and the irrational fucking anger that sizzles around that when he tries to grope for it—to understand it.

Jaskier looks over with pink toothpaste foam all around his mouth, then down at the tube that proudly declares itself "Bubblegum Rush" flavor. He spits in the sink and huffs, "Oh, go ahead, make your jokes. It tastes way better and mint makes my teeth hurt."

"No," says Geralt. "Just thinking."

"Brooding, you mean," Jaskier answers.

Geralt leans his head back against the wall. "You're relentless when you want something."

Jaskier rinses his mouth out in the sink and says, uncharacteristically subdued, "I had to be, to get anything that mattered."

"Hm," Geralt says. He's watching the nervous flick of Jaskier's big eyes, the way his lips are shiny and a little red. "I just stopped wanting."

Jaskier smiles ruefully, finally settling on Geralt's face. He holds out his toothbrush like he's making a toast.

"To bad childhoods," he says gently.

Geralt smiles back, feeling awful and lost and like it could be behind him one day. Just a little of it.

"To bad childhoods," he echoes, and brushes his teeth with Bubblegum Rush.

They pad back into the bedroom, and Geralt watches Jaskier gently deposit the stuffed bear on the floor before crawling into the side it used to occupy. The bed is nice; nicer than Geralt's.

Jaskier shuts off the bedside lamp and then slings an arm around Geralt's middle with his face nuzzling against Geralt's bicep.

Geralt hums and takes the hint, tucking him against his side.

"I can't believe you're here," Jaskier whispers. He reaches with a tentative hand, brushing his fingers against the messy braid crown near Geralt's temple. "Is this bothering you? Should I take it out?"

"Leave it," Geralt murmurs. There's a sliver of bare skin under his palm where Jaskier's shirt is rucked up.

"Okay. Are you comfortable? Is this comfortable?" Jaskier drops his hand and shifts restlessly. "I don't wanna make you uncomfortable."

Jesus. Geralt grabs his hand and laces their fingers together loosely, tugging him closer. "You're not."

"Okay. Yeah, that's good. Should I stop talking?" Jaskier laughs nervously and hides his face in Geralt's neck. "I don't know why I—well, actually, that's not true. I'm always talking. Do you want me to talk?"

"Sure," says Geralt.

"You don't care or you want me to?" Jaskier prompts gently, tilting his face up.

Geralt closes his eyes in the temporary silence, listens to the gentle hum of the AC somewhere above them. Quietly, he says, "I want you to."

Jaskier smiles against Geralt's skin. The words are more even, softer, but no less scattered. "I think it was a pretty good birthday, present company even excluded. Oh, did I introduce you to Charity? She's the one with green hair. Anyways, she told me…"

 

~*~

 

dandilionbard: [Geralt with his head down at the kitchen table, tucked into the crook of his arm] Sleepy Ger-bear <3

 

~*~

 

whitewolf95: [Jaskier has his back turned to the camera. He's clearly mid-story, gesturing broadly with an empty plate in one hand] J: Begs me to stay the night so he can make me breakfast | J: hands me a plate with two poptarts on it

tmarigold: still weirdly adorable

yenven333: Could've warned you, it's all he eats in class. Loudly.

shrike_princess: Gross

"I gave you the best flavor, you grumpy-grump, and I toasted them."

whitewolf95: Hot chocolate sundae is the best flavor

"Okay, now who's snapchatting from across the table?"

whitewolf95: I don't like talking in the mornings

"Oh, well! Good thing I talk enough for the both of us. Wildberry is clearly superior, you animal."

 

~*~

 

"Hi, everyone! This song is for—" Jaskier cuts off when he locks eyes with Geralt across the room, smiling softly. "Well, he knows who he is."

Geralt smiles back.

Jaskier glances over at the monitor once to find his cue, then sings, "'And I'd give up forever to touch you, 'cause I know that you feel me somehow.'"

"Holy fuckballs, G," says Renfri. "I think Baby-Face is whole-ass in love with you."

"Hm." Geralt pops the bottle cap off a beer without looking away.

"Ohh, shit. You know." Renfri jabs a finger into Geralt's ribs. "This is a known thing."

"'And I don't want the world to see me, cause I don't think—'" Jaskier trips over the next word when Geralt gestures sarcastically at the packed bar. "'—they'd understand.' You're horrible! You're horrible, I'm not doing the song anymore! 'I just want you to know who I am.'"

Geralt laughs and finally hands his customer's credit card back over.

"Do you love him? Does he know?" Renfri shoves at Geralt to get his attention. "I called this! I totally fucking called this—day one."

"You didn't call it," Geralt tells her drily. "I haven't fucked him."

"But you're gonna," Renfri says gleefully. 

Geralt chooses not to argue with that.

 

~*~

 

Geralt watches as Renfri, Yen, and Jaskier all throw back tequila shots at the bar, then patiently collects their empty glasses. They're not technically supposed to drink on the job, but he gave up fighting that battle a long time ago.

Renfri cackles when Jaskier scrunches up his face and smacks his hand on the table. "That'll never stop being funny."

"You're the worst," Jaskier whines. "What's the point of booze that doesn't even taste good?"

"Getting drunk," Yen says primly. "And celebrating the end of the worst fucking class I've ever taught—which I still blame you for, by the way."

Jaskier wags a finger at her. "But you could celebrate with something good. You like wine, don't you?"

"Wine won't get me drunk fast enough to have this conversation with you," Yen answers.

Geralt smirks as Jaskier huffs at her good-naturedly. Renfri slides over another round.

Triss' voice comes over the speakers. "Okay, everyone, up next is Jaskier singing 'Maneater.' Jaskier!"

Jaskier hops off his stool and runs up to the stage. He grabs the microphone and announces, "Hi, friends! We're changing it up today, because this song is dedicated to Yennefer, who is no longer contractually obligated to deal with me but for some reason is still at the bar over there listening to me sing."

Yen cups both hands over her mouth and shouts, "Oh, fuck you, Julian!"

"Our bond is eternal, my love!" Jaskier waves cheekily at her and misses the first line of the song.

Yen rolls her eyes and then turns back to Geralt, shooting him a long-suffering look.

Geralt rests his forearms on the bar and tells her, "Thank you."

"For what?" she asks lightly, laying a hand on his arm.

"Not killing him," he says with a wry tilt of his head.

"Ah, yes." Yen leans across the counter and kisses him smugly. "That was very magnanimous of me."

Geralt drags his teeth across her bottom lip as she pulls away. When he looks over, she's playing with the rings on Renfri's fingers with her other hand absent-mindedly.

Hm. Geralt raises an eyebrow at her and makes a point of moving down the bar to take more drink orders. 

Jaskier finishes his death wish in song form and gets ready to leave the stage, making clear eye contact with Geralt, when Triss makes another announcement.

"Youuu may wanna stay up there, Jaskier," she teases. "I've got special instructions to save this particular song for midnight, and it's almost time."

Geralt narrows his eyes suspiciously.

Triss says, "Up next are Geralt and Jaskier, singing 'I'm Gonna—'" she giggles audibly over the speakers. "Singing 'I'm Gonna Be!' Geralt, you better get down here!"

Geralt bolts for the storeroom.

Renfri and Yen both grab him at once, which gives Jaskier enough time to appear right in front of him.

"Geralt, c'mon!" he begs, tugging at his sleeve and jumping up and down. "Just this once, please, it's the fourteenth!"

Geralt sighs and lets himself get dragged up onto the stage, re-tying his hair into a bun while Jaskier sources him a second microphone.

"Why this song?" he mutters, but Jaskier's already singing. 

Geralt crosses his arms, the microphone clenched in one hand, and tries to school his face into something aggressively neutral.

Jaskier is unfazed, beaming unabashedly from ear to ear while he sings, "'But I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more!"

He keeps dancing around Geralt, prodding and tugging at him to try and get him to sing along—which seems to be encouraging the crowd to cheer at them for some reason.

Geralt watches him with growing fondness, lips twitching. It's unavoidable; it always was.

Except that it wasn't. That Jaskier could want with greedy fingers smearing over everything like he'd been starved of it and Geralt could want nothing at all, and somehow it could result in this—the heat rising to Geralt's face and the blinding, expensive smile reflecting it—

This didn't have to happen. It probably shouldn't have. Geralt poured drinks and sent pictures of his potted plant collection and his temperamental horse, and stepped up onto this stage.

It was for something. Because the wanting was less terrible than getting less of it.

Geralt looks over at Jaskier's earnest face, holds up his microphone, and sings in his most monotone voice, "Da da-da dah. "

The cheering that results is so loud that Geralt's fucking fight or flight almost kicks in—but the way Jaskier practically glows is enough to make Geralt stay, and sing the next line too.

It's a specific rush, having Jaskier's eyes on him while he deadpans the song wildly off-key, stone-faced except for the tiny smile, making Jaskier laugh so hard he fucks up the words and tries to get Geralt to dance with him.

There's whooping and hollering when the song finally ends, but Geralt's focused on the way Jaskier throws himself into Geralt's arms.

"Thank you!" Jaskier shouts, peppering kisses all over the side of Geralt's face and laughing and laughing, and Geralt tightens his arms around Jaskier's back and lifts him clean off the ground.

They knock over the microphone stand, which makes Jaskier laugh even harder. He kicks his legs in the air and slides a hand up the back of Geralt's neck until Triss comes on over the speakers and teases, "Okay, boys, settle down over there! Give it up for Geralt and Jaskier, everybody!"

Geralt puts Jaskier down and holds onto his hips and kisses him. He ignores the wolf whistles. It's his hands and the fingers tickling at the wisps of hair at the base of his skull and laughter against his mouth.

Jaskier stands on his toes and shouts into Geralt's ear, "Geralt! Geralt, wanna know a secret?"

"Yeah," Geralt answers, nuzzling against his temple.

Jaskier bites at Geralt's earlobe, making his breath catch, and tells him, "I'm a Gemini."

"Mother fucker," says Geralt.